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MSHA report on Crandall Canyon shows blatant disregard for miners' safety

July 25, 2008
For immediate release?: 

Phil Smith 703-208-7241

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

"The report issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) yesterday on the disaster at Crandall Canyon identified the blatant disregard for miners' safety by the mine operator, Genwall Resources, a subsidiary of Murray Energy. The company's production-at-all-costs mentality clearly was the most significant factor contributing to this tragedy.

"It is now abundantly clear that the mine operator had reason to know it was likely that a mine 'bump' (coal outburst) would occur in the area where it did occur on Aug. 6, 2007. Ample warnings were given in the company's own internal documents, based on experience in another section of the mine where a collapse had previously occurred, as well as on conditions miners were experiencing just a few days prior to Aug. 6.

"Yet that did not stop senior company management from pressing ahead, even after the company had seriously--and illegally--weakened the structural integrity of the mine by mining coal from the barrier pillars and the mine floor. We think these were criminal acts. In our opinion, the fine levied by MSHA for these actions is not penalty enough.

"In separate investigations of this tragedy earlier this year, both Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) called for a criminal investigation into the Crandall Canyon disaster. We wholeheartedly agree.

"But there is more to this tragedy than the greed of a coal operator causing workers to be put in harm's way. The fact is that companies like Murray Energy are supposed to be kept in check by MSHA. That did not happen at Crandall Canyon. Indeed, as Sen. Kennedy's report earlier this year demonstrated, there already was evidence to suggest that MSHA personnel helped expedite the approvals of plans submitted by Murray Energy that led up to this disaster.

"We must ask: Where were the MSHA inspectors? Why was MSHA not being proactive in protecting miners' health and safety? Why did MSHA act as little more than a rubber stamp for a clearly flawed mining plan?

"To its credit, the Department of Labor's (DOL) separate 'independent' review of MSHA's actions asks some of these same questions. The DOL report finds MSHA wanting, especially with respect to the agency's review of the mining plan and its actions in the rescue attempt, including the subsequent deaths of three brave rescuers.

"These tragic events provide a very clear demonstration of what has happened to MSHA over the last seven years under the Bush administration. It has become a coddler of coal companies, not an enforcer of law and regulation. These reports reiterate the need for a change in administration, to one that will put workers' health and safety above increased production and profits."

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